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WellPoint Partners With Zagat

WellPoint partners with Zagat to offer an online peer-to-peer physician rating tool to the insurer's members.

Having identified peer-to-peer member communication as a missing element in the decision-making tools it delivers to its members, Indianapolis-based health insurer WellPoint ($54 billion in assets) has partnered with Zagat Survey (New York) to create an online tool that will allow members to share with one another their experiences with physicians.

"We've been doing patient satisfaction surveys for a long time," explains Eric Fennel, WellPoint's staff VP of consumer innovation. "What we recognized was that we needed to create a vehicle that would engage people in this conversation and do more than just solicit their opinions." Most decision-making tools in the industry today, Fennel adds, are centered on providing clinical quality or cost information to members. "One of the missing pieces," he says, "is that peer-to-peer experience."

WellPoint reviewed research from organizations such as the BlueCross BlueShield Association (Chicago) and Forrester (Cambridge, Mass.) that confirmed that customers wanted the capability to provide and review peer-based physician evaluations. "The research we saw in the market validated what we had learned through not only experience, but [through] other informal research with our own consumers," Fennel relates. "When people have to make a decision they tend to turn, first and foremost, to friends and family for help and guidance and then look to other information that might be available."

Through the partnership, Zagat will bring its well-known 30-point rating scale to healthcare providers. "We're not just using [Zagat's] name, but their expertise and methodology and applying it to a different consumer experience," Fennel notes.

WellPoint consumers can access the tool via the insurer's member Web site and rate their experiences with doctors based on trust, communication, availability and environment. Users also will be able to indicate if they would recommend a given physician to others and leave open-ended comments about their experiences.

Ratings and comments will be attributed to a unique commenter ID chosen by the user rather than to a specific name, Fennel points out, and members will be able to rate the usefulness of their peers' comments. Both features, which already are built into Zagat's model, are keys to the physician rating tool's success, he insists. "It's important for people to identify with the other comments," Fennel states. "You start to create identities around, 'Oh yeah, I've seen that person comment before and they seem to be in a similar place as me.'"

Fennel expects the tool to go live in January 2008 in a handful of markets that are yet to be determined. By March it should be available to about 1 million members, he says, adding that WellPoint eventually hopes to make the tool accessible to all of its nearly 35 million members.

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